AG’s office will resume Plan B payments for rape survivors but not abortions

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird standing at a podium in her office while explaining the results of the audit, including resuming payments for emergency contraceptives but not abortion

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird speaks about her office's audit of victim services during a Friday, May 31, press conference. Photo by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Nikoel Hytrek

May 31, 2024

Attorney General Brenna Bird’s office says it’s the will of Iowans not to fund abortion

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird’s office will resume payments for the emergency contraceptives rape survivors need after halting payments for more than a year.

Bird made the announcement at a Friday press conference announcing the results of an audit that led to the pause in the first place.

“I agree that Plan B contraceptive prescriptions for victims to prevent pregnancy should be reimbursed,” Bird said. “The office will reimburse all pending victim claims for Plan B contraceptives and continue reimbursing providers moving forward.”

Emergency contraceptives, also known as morning-after pills and by the brand name Plan B, delay ovulation to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex; they do not cause abortions.

Bird said while her office will reimburse emergency contraceptives, it will no longer reimburse providers who perform abortions for survivors.

“Iowa will not use public dollars to pay for abortions,” she said.

In the text of the audit, Bird’s office also shared the political reason it won’t pay for abortion care.

“Iowans have made their position on public funding of abortions clear through the votes of majorities they elected to both the [Iowa] House and [Senate], each of which voted down a proposal to have our office pay for abortion,” the audit states.

The attorney general’s office has never used public dollars for abortion. The funds come entirely from fines and penalties paid by convicted criminals.

Bird also announced that her office would reimburse the claims that came into her office while the payments were halted. For more than a year, medical providers and pharmacies that dispense emergency contraceptives had to eat the cost of the medication—but not the medications for sexually transmitted infections or HIV—while the AG’s office conducted an audit of the victim services program.

No survivors have been denied medication in that time, but providers did worry about how long they would be able to continue providing the medication without payment because they can cost between $40-50 for a single pill.

Bird said there were around 400 claims submitted to her office during the audit.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE nurses), who treat rape survivors when they report to hospitals and conduct the forensic exams, prescribe emergency contraceptives as part of the routine care they provide. SANE nurses have worried these payments would never resume because there’s no other statewide program to cover the costs and the medication is important to treating survivors.

“It is a safe and effective medication that is one of the core basics of that medical forensic exam,” Katy Rasmussen, a SANE nurse in Johnston County, told Starting Line.

SANE nurses in Iowa have said they’re adamant survivors should never be forced to pay for it themselves.

Funds for the program come from criminal fines paid by violators that go into the Crime Victim Compensation Program.

Iowa law requires the attorney general’s office, through the Sexual Assault Examination Payment Program, to pay for the exams, tests, and preventative medications—for sexually transmitted infections and HIV—survivors need. Emergency contraception isn’t mentioned in the law, but for 40 years, former attorney general Tom Miller’s office included them in the program. In rare cases, the office also covered abortions.

Rep. Lindsay James (D-Dubuque) responded to Bird’s announcement in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.

“Since day one, Brenna Bird has used her office to play politics instead of serving Iowans. It’s why Iowans are so frustrated with politics these days,” she said. “After denying victims of sexual assault access to contraception and abortion care for over a year, the decisions she made today is still about politics, not victims. Iowans overwhelmingly support reproductive freedom and politicians have no place interfering in someone else’s medical decisions, especially survivors of sexual assault. Iowans deserve better. They deserve an Attorney General who will put people over politics.”

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

CATEGORIES: CRIME AND SAFETY

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